Monthly Archives: February 2012

My First Shot At Fyre

Fyre is a cool tool for generating art from chaotic functions. This is my first attempt at producing something of interest using it.

Digital Sand Painting

I was just thinking back on the days when personal computers were new and mine didn’t have long term storage. My friends and I would spend hours punching in machine instructions from Byte magazine. We’d go over them repeatedly to fix the inevitable mistakes. Finally we would be rewarded with a few minutes or maybe even an hour of a running program that we would hack on to explore it’s inner workings. And finally we would shut the computer down and lose everything. It was kind of like a digital sand painting.

Now days I wouldn’t dream of changing more than a few lines of code without saving. Of course most of the code I write is for my job and so it only makes sense to be careful. I’m also not that thrilled about the prospect of spending hours on a program only to throw it away but maybe I should be. In school we had programming contests where we were given from an hour to a few hours to solve one or more problems. Just like an IQ test, repeatedly solving the kinds of problems in the contest improved your score immensely.

Tibetan monks make mandalas out of sand to remind them of the impermanence of things. They aren’t trying to meet a deadline in fact they are doing their very best to build the highest quality product no matter how long it takes (often days). It’s amazing when you think about it, they strive for quality in producing a product that they know will be thrown away. Most of my job-related experience has focused on deadlines over quality and these are products that never get thrown away so you have to live with the consequences for a very long time.

I’m starting to work on those old contest problems again in my spare time with no deadline and no interest in preserving the code. I don’t know if my digital sand paintings will lead to any sort of epiphany but it certainly keeps your problem solving skills sharp. I suppose that happens for the monks as well unintended or otherwise. They undoubtedly increase quality with every sand painting and even though the painting itself is ephemeral, the person making the painting is changing permanently.